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Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal on toxic masculinity: 'The most macho man will be the first to break'

Andrew Scott says men are going through a "crisis" right now, struggling to find "what it means to be a man" in today's society.

The Irish actor - who became a household name thanks to his role as 'hot' priest in Fleabag - tells Sky News: "There's a sort of crisis in masculinity I think at the moment and what it means to be a man.

"We have all these things within us, there's no one way of being, there just isn't, and sometimes the people who are the most outwardly macho in some ways, are the people who aren't going to be there for you emotionally.

His co-star, fellow Irishman Paul Mescal, whose breakout role in hit drama Normal People has made him one of the most in demand actors right now, adds, "and they'll be the first to break".

Scott nods: "When you are able to accept all those parts of you, I think that leads to better mental health and just a sense of stability."

The 47-year-old plays screenwriter Adam in All Of Us Strangers - a fantasy romance merging the themes of grief, loss, identity and isolation.

Despite being overlooked in the Oscars nominations, the film has earned six BAFTA nods including outstanding British film and best director, and best supporting actor for Mescal.

The 27-year-old, who plays troubled neighbour Harry in the movie, says that while figures like Andrew Tate act as figureheads for toxic masculinity, this film showcases a very different kind of male energy.

"Adam and Harry, they're going through difficult junctions and moments in their life.

"They're also using their masculinity as a kind of haven for each other. They're not using their masculinity as a barrier or something that is that is impenetrable, it's the opposite, and I'm proud of that."

Their connection breaks their solitude, lived out in a deserted tower block in the heart of the capital.

The film's writer and director, Andrew Haigh tells Sky News male fragility was something he was keen to explore.

"I always think that so many men are just like lost little boys trapped in adults' bodies. So, I wanted the film to speak to that a little bit, and I wanted it to sort of radiate vulnerability."

A queer love story

Inspired by the 1987 novel Strangers by Japanese author Taichi Yamada who died in November, the movie's set in London rather than Tokyo, and pulls away from the stock ghost story elements of its source material.

But the key difference is that the novel has a heterosexual love story at its centre rather than a queer one.

Haigh has said it was important for his lead character, Adam, to be played by an actor who shared his sexuality.

He explains that while it's not a hard and fast casting rule, on this occasion he felt it was the right choice.

"There is so much nuance in Adam and the understanding of how the past has affected him, growing up in the 80s as a gay kid, what that has done to him as an adult, the trauma of growing up at that time, which was a really rough, difficult time.

"I wanted an actor who understood that on a very visceral level. And I think it's a very hard thing to explain to people that didn't experience that, or actually understand how it felt or how we carry the baggage of that into our adulthood."

Scott, who first spoke about being gay in interviews 10 years ago when promoting the movie Pride, says it's about so much more than whether a character is straight or gay.

'You don't play sexuality'

"I think the most important thing in any character is to look at what the attributes of the character are, not just the sexuality of the character."

He says representation behind the camera is as important as that in front, with people in positions of power elsewhere on the production able to speak up if they feel a representation is false or inaccurate.

"You don't play sexuality, otherwise all gay characters would just have the same attributes - one gay character is distinct from another gay character, depending on what their attributes are, in the same way, we'd apply that theory to straight characters."

Admitting he sometimes gets frustrated when questions about sexuality are asked even when they have no relevance to a project, Scott explains: "What we're talking about is storytelling because representation is incredibly important. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that.

"But so is transformation because it speaks to our empathy. And I think actors like to transform because you like to empathise, like to imagine what it's like to be in someone else's shoes...

"We're all more similar to each other than we might imagine."

The chemistry is for real

Mescal, who is straight, defends his casting in the role of a gay man.

He explains: "Historically, when there's been performances that have been deemed offensive, it's when actors or storytellers are attempting to play a sexuality. It's impossible. And I often times think that one of the least interesting parts of these characters is their sexuality.

"They contain so much more than just that, and that's what I like to find in this story, not just as a queer love story, but as a love story in general."

Haigh says he cast Mescal as he felt he'd be "incredible and wonderful in that role", adding, "of course you can cast someone, I think, in certain roles who don't necessarily match the sexuality of the characters.

"It's often about who is also writing the material and who is making the material and who is behind the material, and there are a lot of us on this project who are gay and are queer and understand what this experience is."

When asked whether Scott and Mescal had a 'chemistry test,' (a read through set up with the film's potential stars to ascertain how well they'd work together) Haigh laughs.

"Everyone asks about chemistry, but when you're making a film, you're not saying, 'Do we all have chemistry? Is there chemistry here?' You don't just do the best you can with the material that you have.

"It was clear to me that [Scott and Mescal] liked each other a lot as actors, as people. The characters are falling in love, so the actors know how to generate chemistry…

"They clearly have amazing chemistry, and they're really good friends now, and they care and love for each other. So, something magical happened. I'm very grateful for that."

All Of Us Strangers is in UK cinemas today.